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Multilingualism and Language

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    Bilingual or multilingual is a person who can speak two or more two languages with equal or less equal proficiency. A society is called bilingual or multilingual if the people there speak more than one language. Bilingualism and multilingualism are referred to the same thing mostly. Bilingualism may mean that the users of language are using more than two languages and multilingualism may also mean that the speakers are using two languages in the community or society. About half of the world’s population is multi/bilingual. It is, in fact, very hard to find a monolingual community or society like Japan, etc. While talking about the subcontinent in general and especially Pakistan we come to know that we are a multilingual community.

    We use Urdu as a language of communication between different domestic language speakers, thus Urdu working as a lingua Franka, we use domestic languages at a local level such as Punjabi, Hindko, Barahwi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Saraiki, Kashmiri, etc and we use English also as a foreign language. People of Pakistan are bilingual/trilingual or generally multilingual. Bilingualism is believed to be a gradable system so we can distinguish among its various kinds. Here it will be tried to discuss some concepts relating to multilingualism and then it will be tried to relate them to the local context of Pakistan especially Punjab.

    As the assignee is a Punjabi, Urdu, and English speaker so the examples will be related to these languages mostly, although they will be almost valid for other domestic languages also. The first distinction that can be made in bilingualism is that the speaker has equal proficiency in both or all the languages he can speak or write. Such a bilingual is called a balanced bilingual or bilingual. This is not the absolute criteria, there may be some situations where a bilingual’s abilities in a given language suffer due to pressure of the situation, etc.

    There may also be a situation of more receptive knowledge of one language and more active knowledge of another i. e. he may understand a language but may not speak it and he may speak and understand another language very well. There are also some situations in which bilingual is familiar with the spoken system of one language and the written system of another. If we compare this kind of bilingualism distinction with our situation we can find certain similarities. Punjabi and Urdu are two languages that are believed to be known by a person living in Punjab. A Punjabi-speaking child learns Urdu along with Punjabi at the almost same age.

    Exposure to both languages at the same time enables him to be proficient in both languages almost equally. But here we come to the point of the above para. The difference in reading and writing system hinders here. A Punjabi-speaking child is not necessarily believed to learn to write Punjabi also. He writes in Urdu and it is considered sufficient for him/her. In particular, situations where the learner optionally learns Punjabi at school enable him/her to read and write it otherwise it is seen that young speakers of Punjabi avoid reading or writing Punjabi and they feel it convenient to do it in Urdu.

    So their proficiency suffers here in Punjabi in writing and reading while in Urdu they are proficient in all fields reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The second kind of distinction in bilingualism can be drawn by the acquisition of language. There are two main processes to learn a language. Acquisition and learning are two methods to learn languages, the former is natural and primary while the latter is artificial and secondary. A language acquired by a person interacting with his parents, sisters, brothers, and friends, etc at home will be the native language.

    Another language he learns at some institute by formal education will be called a foreign or a 2nd or 3rd language. Former bilingual will be called primary and later will be called secondary bilingual. In the case of Urdu and Punjabi, we are primary bilinguals. We learn these languages at home, from our surroundings in typical natural situations. While in the case of Urdu and English or Punjabi and English we are secondary bilinguals because we learn former from home and later from an institute usually a school. The third kind of bilingualism distinction is a socio-psychological distinction.

    The people may feel it additive have another language that enriches their ideas and knowledge. And they may feel it subtractive or loss of their language and culture by another language (usually a dominant language). In our context, this thing is applied to Urdu and English connections in both ways. People feel it additive to their knowledge, considering English as a language of latest knowledge and information and thus enriching their knowledge. People also feel it subtractive in the sense that English is acquiring the place of Urdu in our local life, its words are used and those of Urdu are ignored.

    So it can be a cause of loss of our culture and identity and some people are against its usage. A very useful way to describe the bilinguals is the domain specification. A domain is an empirically determined cluster of consisting a location, a set of role relationships, and a set of topics. For each domain, the bilingual has a pre-defined language to be used.  By comparing this theory with our practical use of language we can see what languages we use in each domain. Most likely we use Punjabi at home, talking with parents and other family members on different domestic and even non-domestic issues. With neighbors we also use Punjabi talking with them in different relations. At school the language changes to Urdu, when we talk to our teachers, co-teachers, principal or junior staff and peers, etc. At a mosque and religious gathering once again we use Urdu usually, sometimes local language is used for better interaction (especially in villages Punjabi is used). At the work level or higher education institutes, our talks are a mixture of Urdu and English switching to English when talking in meetings and very formal settings. Code Mixing and Code Switching In a situation, community, or a society where there are bilinguals and they interact with each other in more than one language, due to the factor of language contact a situation arises which is called code-mixing and code-switching.

    This situation can lead towards language interference in which a language is influenced by another language on the levels of semantics, grammar, and phonology. A bilingual can talk to another bilingual in each language common between them. He can also use the words of one language in other, knowing that the listener understands the other language as well. Such a kind of mixing is called code-mixing. Code mixing is also called conversational code-switching. Code mixing takes place usually in spoken language as we are less conscious about our language and we do have not much time to replace foreign words with native ones.

    We take it for granted that another person is understanding us. Code mixing is not only the mixing of words but clauses are also included in it, a part of a sentence from one language and another part from another language, and in similar syntactic structured languages such as English and Spanish the grammatical inflections are also mixed. It is very much related to domains and situations. In a very formal situation, bilinguals can use a mixed code of formal and informal variety in their leisure time.

    The language in which education is received also influences the choice of words from another language and people tend to code mix who are highly educated and especially in a foreign language. It is observed in many countries that teachers having degrees from a foreign institute mix their code while delivering lectures. If we consider our situation we can find that domains related to education, media, and profession are those where people use to mix the code. This code-mixing is of two high-level formal languages of the community i. e. Urdu and English. Teachers while talking in-classroom use frequently the terms of the discipline from English.

    Media men and especially hosts on TV and radio etc mix the code frequently. They use a blend of Urdu with English and English with Urdu in talk shows and live programs.

    We can see the plurals as well used as they are in Urdu from English. Code-switching is the umbrella term as compared to code-mixing. It involves code-mixing as well as the switching of language. Code-switching is distinguished from code-mixing as here people switch to another language for relatively large chunks of language. In our context, if we see, even in classrooms of higher education levels, the teachers switch to and from the native to foreign language during their lecture. Similarly media men, professionals also mix and switch their code highly while talking. Here is an example from Pakistani film star Javed Sheikh’s interview.


    Borrowing is very closely related to code-mixing and switching. A single person using a foreign word is code-mixing while lots of people doing this is called borrowing. Borrowing is to get a foreign language word into the native language. In this process, its pronunciation may be changed or it can be kept as in Urdu we use English word Policy as policy.

    Borrowing can be at a semantic level translating certain concepts from foreign to the native language. It can be at the syntactic level or morphological level to adopt certain language systems in the native language. Borrowing has a very interesting problem. The meanings of words are changed sometimes from native meanings and word is used in the local language in a different sense. An EFL teacher in Korea reports such a problem on his blog. He says that people are using English words in Korean in a different sense, these words are when spoken to native speakers of English in local meaning create problems of understanding.

    In Urdu, we have some examples of changes in the meaning of a borrowed word. The committee is an English noun used in Urdu also as a noun but it is used as a verb also. Code mixing, switching, and borrowing are also taking place in domestic languages but it is relatively rare as compared to Urdu. But we can find such examples while traveling in a local bus or standing at a stop.

    Inter-language mixing of Urdu and domestic languages is also taking place. People in cities are tending to use Urdu words to purify their domestic language. Especially in cities like Karachi, it is reported that words of Urdu are frequently spoken in domestic languages like Pashto. The young Pakhtoons are marked by their Urdu-mixed Pushto when they visit Peshawar or the domestic areas of their parents. Considering our language situations as a diglossic community we can make a continuum of languages according to their formality level.

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